The streets of Bukhara may be lined with beautiful new suzani and silk scarves but find your way in to the handful of shops selling antique textiles and other heirloom pieces and you have found the real treasure. These are truly museum pieces - and their price reflects it. I totally fell in love with the red and white embroidered Turkman cap in the photo here, made some time in the 19th century for a young girl and encrusted with the most exquisite embroidery and beading, but with a starting price of $US1000, I knew even the most ferocious haggling wouldn't bring it down within my price range, so I'm making do with a photo instead.
Appropriately, this treasure was in a small shop in the middle of the Tol-i-Tilpuk Furushon - the Cap Maker's Bazaar. Not that caps were all that were on sale here - the walls were hung with exquisite pieces of all sizes, provenances ( Uzbek, Turkman, Tajik and more) and purposes and there were tall stacks of folded pieces all around the room . From these exquisite caps to complete robes made from a rainbow of silk ikats, small scraps of precious antique fabrics to the 8 metre long zardevor (an embroidered and fringed frieze hung around the upper part of a room) that I did buy, the shop is crammed with beautiful pieces .
What to buy: Bargaining here is to be taken seriously and can involve several return visits. One of our companions did just this, and the reward for her efforts was two gorgeous silk robes, one a real investment piece, the other she intends to wear occasionally. You really have to know what you're doing to deal in this way. I'm an amateur compared to her, but I was more than happy with my purchase and the $US120 I paid for it.
What to buy:
Uzbek textiles are not confined to suzanis -beautiful as they are. A bit harder to find - and certainly not available in the same quantity - are the wonderful woven textiles that are such an important part of the country's incredible heritage of fine decorative arts. Many of these are the work of nomadic women, working with simple looms that can easily be packed and moved. The ingenuity and beauty of the articles they create in this way is remarkable.
These textiles are an integral part of life and from a young age girls work to create textiles for their dowries. Even the most modest of homes is filled with woven, embroidered and appliqué textiles. Prayer rugs, saddlecloths bags, cradle covers, yurt bands, tent flaps and door hangings, bedding covers can all be found. They wil not be cheap, though to buy them in a decorator store that deals in these ethnic textiles will cost you far more back home - and nothing you buy there will bring with it the memories of Central Asia that a piece actually brought home will do.
What to pay: Prices in Bukhara are probably a little higher than in most other places in Uzbekistan - certainly if you get to Shakhrisabz or Khiva you will find things are a little cheaper. However - Bukhara is definitely the place with the biggest choice. Prices vary enormously - size and workmanship are the main criteria. You could find a yurt strap perhaps for as little as $5 - or pay a couple of hundred for a fine and elaborate yurt hanging.
What to buy:
Suzanis - the traditional large embroidered wall-hangings from Bukhara -are regarded as some of the finest handwork of this kind in the world and the choice is truly bewildering. Typically they are worked in silk on either handwoven cotton (karbos) or linen (biaz) in chainstitch (yerma) and a couching stitch (basma.) The patterns cover most of the field with only a small part of the background cloth left showing. Most of the patterns are floral in their inspiration, with a central panel surrounded by a wide border (photo 2), though some may be a repeated symmetrical placing of a single motif (photo 4).
You will see suzanis for sale everywhere in Bukhara - the choice is vast. Take some time to really look and choose carefully - the workmanship does vary and prices can vary just as much. Some bargaining will be possible but take about 70-75% of the initial figure quoted as being the price you will probably have to pay unless you are an expert at the haggling process.
In deference to western taste, some suzanis are dipped in tea to tone down the original bright colours. This is an accepted process - as long as it is done well! You may see some embroideries that have a strong green tinge, I would steer well clear of those - not only are they badly dyed, they are usually quite crudely worked also.
Strictly speaking, only the large wall-hangings are suzani - small hangings are nimsuzani, large yurt hangings (which will have a raw edge along one long side and are quite different in design and technique) are tuskiz and there are many other names for specific pieces but these days "suzani" has become something of a generic term.
What to pay: Up to and beyond $200 for a really fine suzani. A good nimsuzani will cost anything from $50 -$100. Tuskiz are very individual pieces, it is possible to find older pieces - 50 or 60 years old - for about $100+.
In the Tok-i-Zargaron or Jewellers’ Trading Dome is this wonderful stall selling spices and herbs. The smell that wafts towards you as you approach is truly enticing, and the display a photographer’s, and cook’s, delight! On our visit we were given what the owner, Mirfayz, describes as “magic tea” to taste, and it was so delicious we bought some. Two large bags in fact, for 6,000 som each (a little over £2 or under $5). The tea is made from six spices: cardamom, cloves, oregano, star anise, mint, and cinnamon. When brewing it himself Mirfayz adds a little saffron, as he had to ours. What a wonderful, reviving drink in that heat!
If you enjoy the tea here do find time to visit the family’s Silk Road Spices café – see my restaurant tip for details.
I have read since returning that this stall is in the Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon or Cap Makers’ Trading Dome, but my notes say that we visited it in the Tok-i-Zargaron and I am convinced that this is right (the times recorded on my photos make it impossible that it could have been elsewhere – it was much too hot to have walked from the Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon to the Ulug Beg madrassah in one minute ;) I can pnly think that Mirfayz now has two stalls, or that he’s recently moved. But if you can’t find it in the Tok-i-Zargaron please try the next dome, and do let me know my mistake!
There are lots of shops around Lyabi Hauz and some of them are also open till late.
Many nice things are available but you need to bargain.
Same stuff can be half price at the next shop.
What to buy: Local crafts by handmade.
What to pay: Few bucks can buy you many things.
Tak-i Sarafon is the Bazaar of the Moneychangers. In formers days peopl of Indian origin had their shops here, where they changed money. This was quite important as Bukhara was a center of international trade on the Silkroad. It is a typical trading dome. The cupolas cover two streets crossing here. It is not far rom the Lyab-i Hauz Complex. Its small tower with the blue cupola makes it different and easily to be recognized. Today - of course - the shops do not change money anymor but sell souvenirs.
In many shops there are souvenirs sold. Carpets, ceramics, hats and more are sold everywhere. The people are friendly, just try to earn their living. Some things are very special and typical like this kind of scissors, which are made to look like a crane or stork. You'll find them nowhere else.
In the Tok-i-Tilpak Furushon (Cap-Makers’ Trading Dome) there are several blacksmiths’ stalls, selling the traditional Bukharan scissors in the shape of a stork and other birds. Not all are of the quality of those sold in the Museum of the Blacksmith’s Art, just to the south of the bazaar, but the prices are lower and haggling encouraged! We bought a pair for $5 (I think – sorry, forgot to make a note – the heat must have got to me!)
Just north of the entrance to the bazaar (on your right as you’re going in) you can see a smithy. Several times when we passed we saw the blacksmith outside at work on his anvil and happy to pose for photos (see photo 2).
Just west of the Tok-i-Sarrafon or Money Changers’ Bazaar is this attractive looking caravanserai which now, inevitably, houses a number of handicraft and souvenir shops. We didn’t buy anything on our visit but enjoyed browsing around and my overall impression was the quality was among the best I saw in Bukhara so it would be well worth checking out if you’re shopping around. There was a particularly good selection of smaller suzanni including wall-hangings and cushion covers, and of small rugs. The owners of the shops were welcoming without being too pushy (something that I found was generally the case in Uzbekistan). On our evening visit I was also really taken with the lovely appearance of the courtyard with each of the small shops glowing in the twilight and showing off the colourful textiles to great advantage.
A special place for shopping or just looking around and immerse into the daily life of a city are bazaars.
Looking back at my travels in Uzbekistan, I liked Bukhara’s bazaar most, but cannot say why (maybe as I liked Bukhara most, of the cities I had visited).
The bazaar stretches out west of the Ark, just some metres north of Mausoleum of Chashma Ayub. It is a bustling place and you can get almost everything you want.
What to buy: Of course, you’ll get all the famous spices, but also fresh fruit (ah, yumm, Uzbekistan is a paradise for fresh apricots, figs, dates, apples, pears, grapes), vegetables, clothing, houseware, dishware (tea cups and pots) and so much more.
For the sweet tooth, they have marvellous cakes, cookies and biscuits. And according to Uzbek tradition of kindness and courtesy, they will let you try the sweets to help you to make your decision.
Ahh… how could I resist here ?
What to pay: As this is the place where Bukharians go shopping, you can expect fair prices. The sweets I bought were incredible cheap:
500 som for 5 pieces of some cakes as in the picture,
800 som for 4 apples and 4 pears,
100 som for 3 bulbs of garlic !
As there are several trading domes in Bukhara, which are still inhabited by the traders like in the ancient days, and every sight (medressas, mosques, the Ark, etc) does have small souvenir shops, your choice is unlimited. These traders are selling their goods not only to tourists but also to the locals (often mostly to the locals). Plus, the huge amount of sellers increases competition and you might find good bargains here in Bukhara (as opposed to Khiva, where all is aimed to the tourist).
The best places to shop would be the Taq-i's (Taq-i-Telpak Furushon, as it has the most shops), and then of course the Tim Abdullah Khan bazaar for carpets and lovely and big suzanas.
Another place to look for carpets is the carpet bazaar just opposite of Kaylon Mosque (mosque on your left, cross the street and head into the jewellers' bazaar first, and then continue until you see the carpets). This one is even very interesting just to look around: imagine that carpets are the most important flooring in Uzbekistan – thus you can see some of enormous size (like in the picture).
There is also an interesting shop, Bukhara Artisan Development Centre at Lyab-i-Hauz (having the pool in your back, walk the street to your right, opposite of the bank). I wasn't there, as they were always closed when I was heading back to my hotel. But just peaking through the door, I always regretted that I missed it. Well, there is always a next time.
At a point in time I will write about the shopping goods or art, you can buy in Uzbekistan, on my UZ country page. But.. this will take a while.
What to buy: (see above)
What to pay: As always, it all depends on what you buy (carpets are more expensive), the quality of the goods (machine or hand made) and the size.
Leyle (of the Wandering Camels) has an excellent overview about the suzanis and other textiles.
In ancient times domed Bazaar buildings were erected over all improtant crossroads in Bukhara. Some of them are still in use today. The doors are all so wide that camels and horse carriages could easily pass. Today there are mainly carpets and other typical souvenirs sold.
What to buy: Carpets: The famous Bukhara carpets are not made in Bukhara as the name would suggest. They are originating from the Tekke people in Turkmenistan but since the main trading place for them was Bukhara they were named this way. Generally you should buy carpets only if you are an expert yourself to avoid that you find out at the end that you had got the same carpet maybe even cheaper at home... But as an expert who really knows about prices and qualities you can make the one or other good deal.
Fresh fruit in glowing piles is probably the thing you're most likely to buy here at Bukhara's Farmer's Market. Cherries, apricots, greengages and peaches in early summer, figs, grapes, pears, pomegranates and apples as summer progresses and then, in autumn, melons of every shape, size and variety fill the place and scent the air. It's all delicious, incredibly cheap and hard to resist.
There's everything here of course - the usual mounds of nuts, seeds and dried fruits, golden rounds of bread, sticky sweets dripping with honey and syrup, spices and dried goods in huge open sacks, stockpiles of cheap Chinese shoes, padded coats and imitation Levis, chaikhanas and snack stalls. It's not all that long ago that there was as slave market here - those grim days are no more and today the market is simply full of the ordinary needs of the local people.
The market is busiest in the morning. You'll pass this way if you come to visit Job's Spring, so take some time to have a wander. It may only be a faint shadow of the bustling markets Bukhara was famed for but it is still a fascinating look at everyday life here in Central Asia
In front of the Kalon mosque and Mir-i-arab medresa there a lots of girls and boys trying to sell handicrafts to the tourists. They usually speak perfect english, and some also german. Maybe you'll meet Nargiza, or yulduz, or sabina.....all of them are lovely. Nargiza has a good selection ceramics from rishton.
What to buy: ceramics, caps, paintings, books about bukhara......
What to pay: you should bargain, of course. You can spend from 1 or 2 dollars and up.
We can say about these domes that they are souvenir shops, you can find there everything you need, from past times things till the most modern ones.
What to buy: You can get there wonderful bags made by local craftsmen, books of the history of Bukhara, different original knifes and scissors, men and women clothes, jewelry. Antiques!
What to pay: Try to bargain, bargain and bargain. These sellers hope to take as much as possible from you...:-)